Pittsburgh's Best Resource for Food Adventures
Archive for June 2010
Jun 19 2010
My nearest and dearest buddies know my biggest fears. Some phobias, I’ve conquered. Others, not so much. The list has included – at one time or another – dogs, airplanes, cats and birds. But most don’t know another secret fear. I’ve been scared to venture into South Philly. This is not like me at all, as I love to wander about by myself, especially in big cities. Hmm, a bit of reflection revealed the reason for this silliness. It all started many moons ago on the way to the shore when my dad took a wrong exit off the Schuylkill and we found ourselves off track in South Philly. A parental freak-out occurred – “oh no, we’re lost in a big city” and along with it my deep seated terror of row homes began. ( That last part really isn’t true.)
This Passyunk panic was compounded when my first college roommate turned out to be a tried and true South Philly girl. Being a more reserved Pittsburgh Northern Italian, I was her polar opposite. The living situation didn’t last even one semester. At the time, I thought it was mainly her fault, but years later, with lots more living under my belt, I realized the girl unpacking the flannel footie pjs made in home ec was about as strange ( if not more so,) as the one unloading bottles of homemade wine, pepperoni rolls and garlicky broccoli rabe into our five by seven foot dorm room.
So this year, because of a big birthday, it’s time to get rid of fear. I think I have the dog one kicked, sometimes I am okay with cats and I’m working on planes and birds.
A few days ago, I got over my South Philly avoidance by going on a foodie tour of the Italian Market with chef Jacquie Peccina-Kelly. Her company, A Taste for Travel does culinary good tours near and far, but the Italian Market is home base for Jacquie. She lived there, went to school there and knows everything about the place. Geez, she is even good friends with the owner of Pat’s Cheesesteaks. And guess what, any ‘Burgher readers? This guy loves Primanti’s!!
There’s more to come on the many tour highlights, but if you’re planning a trip to Philadelphia soon, you must do this. My favorite food tour ever so far.
As I typed the last line, a small plane just zoomed right over my head. Like right over my head. I think it’s a sign of the next fear to conquer.
Jun 13 2010
Last night, the local ice cream shop’s daily special was a Fluffernutter sundae. My daughter didn’t know what Fluffernutter was, but I remembered it from my college days as a mix of peanut butter and marshmallow. Oh, yum. Not for the calorie counter.
My wealth of knowledge daughter proceeded to tell me that a “fluffer” is a person with a specific unusual, yeah, let’s call it unusual, occupation. Google it yourself. So she thought it was funny that fluffer was combined with nutter to form such a heavenly food product.
Of course, once we got home I had to research Fluffernutter a little further. I found out that it’s is actually a sandwich made from white bread with a layer of peanut butter and a layer of marshamallow fluff. It’s also the unofficial state sandwich of Massachusetts. I couldn’ t find if PA had a state sandwich, but I guess it could the cheesesteak if you were from Philly or maybe the Primanti type sandwich if you hail from Pittsburgh. I did find that Pennsylvania could be the first state to have a state gun, as there is a bill in the Senate for this right now. The Pennsylvania Long Rifle would be the gun. That’s just great.
If you want to see more about Fluffernutter, including some sweet little retro jingles . . . go to http://www.marshmallowfluff.com/pages/fluffernutter.html
Jun 11 2010
In July and August, the drive to Cape May from the Atlantic City Expressway can take hours of sitting in stop and go traffic. But before the crowds pour in, the drive is a breeze. A few days ago, I took advantage of a traffic free day to cruise down to the southern tip of New Jersey.
I did want to spend some time in the quaint, yet hip Victoriana that is Cape May, but really I went to visit the Hawk Haven Vineyard and Winery, located a few miles out in the town of Rio Grande. I sampled Hawk Haven wine a few months ago at a dinner in Cape May and finally had time to visit the vineyard. Owners Kenna and Todd Wuerker were both there when I arrived and they chatted with me during my tasting session. I’m always intrigued by people who probably ignored their parents suggested careers of . . . maybe lawyer, doctor, or accountant. . . and took a leap to pursue their actual dream job. People who have a real passion for something a little off from center. Yay for them. So, anyway, Hawk Haven’s tasting room is woodsy and cool and the surrounding vineyard was super serene. You can bring a picnic basket, buy a bottle of wine and sit out on the picnic table or in the vineyard to enjoy your lunch.
Since I was my own designated driver and I’m a lightweight ( in terms of alcohol tolerance only), small tastes were best for me. Only in business selling wine for a few years, these folks seem to know exactly how to craft fine wine and how to be good businessfolks. The young owners are eager to share their knowledge and they also have lots of fun events to bring people out to the winery. Things like special wine dinners with local chefs or Sangria Sundays and weekly Friday Wine Bar Happy Hours. All sound like a good time. I left with a case of a few different varieties – American Kestrel White, Red Table Wine and Chardonnay. They were sold out of the Merlot, but I’ll return for some of that once it’s available. I’m no wine expert, but I really enjoyed the wine here. I will surely be back, next time with someone else in charge of the car keys.
Jun 6 2010
Any day spent with either of my daughters is a perfect day to me, but yesterday really was a winner. First of all, I was at the Jersey shore, where waking up to squawking seagulls and the sweet smell of syrupy pancakes from the breakfast place across the street is part of my morning routine. Heavenly. And to make things even better, my Philly based offspring agreed to drive down and join me for a cooking demo at Phillip’s Seafood in the glitzy Pier Shops at Caesars in Atlantic City. Our family first ate at the Phillip’s restaurant at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor many moons ago, and we’ve enjoyed the chain ever since. So when I read about cooking classes at their NJ outpost on a foodie blog called John and Lisa are Eating in South Jersey, I really wanted to go. Three classes were offered this spring. I missed the first two, but luckily was in town for the third. (The next series will begin in the fall.)
Executive Chef Paul Drew was our instructor and entertainer for over two hours.
He showed the six students how to select,clean, filet, stuff and prepare fresh fish, something that always intimidates me a bit at home. Maybe because I live in Pittsburgh and the words “fresh” and “fish” don’t always go together??
Wow, there sure was a lot of eating going on. After some dim sum appetizers, we then tasted Crabmeat Stuffed Flounder with Imperial Sauce, Tandoori Salmon, Pan Roasted Red Snapper with Roasted Shallots, Garlic and Tomatoes and Grilled Barramundi with a Citrus Marinade and Grilled Asparagus. Actually, tasted is the wrong word. Over-indulged is more like it. Each dish was about the size of an regular dinner entree. The food kept coming and coming. And it was all delicious. After we cleaned our plates four times over, the grand finale was scoop of tropically sweet mango sorbet accompanied by fresh mango “chips.”
The perfect ending. The class also included a wine pairing, with friendly General Manager Brian Fountain informing us about the vino selections. The whole event was orchestrated by the completely lovely and very accommodating Corporate Director of Marketing, Michelle Torres. As a bonus, we all went home with the most wonderful swag bag. I’m keeping the contents a secret, but believe me, this was one super goodie bag.
The Phillip’s folks can arrange cooking class “parties” for small groups, too. What a great way to celebrate a birthday, anniversary or other special occasion. If you’re in the area, pay them a visit, either for one of their classes or just for a great meal at one of the coolest locations in Atlantic City.
Jun 2 2010
Pittsburgh’s farm markets are open and I couldn’t be happier. But sometimes our city’s weather doesn’t cooperate with strolling the outdoor farm stands.
Don’t get me going on ‘Burgh weather. Oops. Too late. I’m already annoyed from the rainy May, so allow me to tell a quick weather story before I get back to the topic of farm markets.
Many years ago, while in sunny Maui on vacation, we stopped at a sunglass store where they altered the UV value of the glasses based on where the customer lived. When we told the folks behind the counter that we lived in Pittsburgh, they laughed. And laughed. A lot. Our fair city was second only to Seattle on their list of cloudiest cities. Ha ha – it was sooooooo funny. Not.
Back to farm markets. So it seems to rain a lot here on weekends, especially in June once the Three Rivers Arts Festival begins. But there is one ray of sunshine each and every Saturday. The East Liberty Farmer’s Cooperative, located at 344 N. Sheridan Street near Home Depot, is an indoor farm market open on Saturdays year round.
Established in 1941, it’s the oldest farm market in Western Pennsylvania. So early on Saturday mornings (the market is open from 5 until 10 AM,) I visit this small-ish indoor market to buy eggs, chicken or Indian food and grab a glass of fresh squeezed fruit juice. Even mid-winter when local produce is sparse, this little market gives me enough “farm” to get me through the winter. Recent personal highlights at the market included delish whole wheat gnocchi from Vandergrift based Fontana pasta, Jamaican coffee from the Kew Park Coffee Stand, Riverview Dairy goat cheese and my favorite horseradish hummus from The Greek Stop. Oh, and the Kew Park folks are now bringing in fresh pressed olive oils from California. Can’t wait to give them a try this Saturday. Rain or shine.
A food adventure might be sleuthing out the juiciest June strawberries at a farm market, learning about gone but not forgotten area food treasures, working with a chef during a hands on cooking class or touring Pennsylvania’s artisan cheesemaker’s farms (and meeting a few cows along the way) . . or any of a zillion other fun ways to explore foodie things within a day's drive of Pittsburgh.